Recently, our team invited seasoned litigator Diana Siri Breaux, a partner at Summit Law Group in Seattle, to interview Gravity’s founder and CEO Dan Price about this very topic. As a longtime business owner, Dan has his fair share of experience with the legal system. In 2016, that experience reached new levels when Dan’s brother and co-founder, Lucas Price, took him to court after alleging that Dan’s decisions as CEO--including the decision to raise Gravity’s minimum wage to $70,000 a year--had cost him money as a minority shareholder. At stake was not just millions of dollars but the very existence of the company--and the jobs of its 120+ employees.
During the conversation, Dan and Diana discussed what Dan found most valuable about his attorneys’ counsel during that case--and what his lawyers could have done better. Here is what he shared.
Explain How You Prefer to Work: Do you prefer to work with clients who trust you to handle all the decisions? Or do you prefer to work with clients who are hands on and want to be involved? What does your client want? Tell any prospective clients how you prefer and expect to work with them so you can both decide whether it will be a good fit. It’s always better to lose a potential client than end up in a frustrating situation later on.
Be Honest about the Process: Several months into the litigation process, a mediator told Dan: “It feels like you’re six months into a 12-15 month process. But really, you’re six months into a process that could take years.” The court’s first judgement is not the end of the process, but the beginning. Lawyers understand this, but your client might not. Make sure they understand how the full process is likely to play out so they’re not frustrated or surprised when things take longer than they expect.
Understand Your Client’s Goals: On the surface, your client and you share the same goal: to receive a favorable ruling. But it’s likely your client’s goal runs much deeper than just winning. In Dan’s case, losing meant being forced to sell the company he started as a teenager since he would have had no other way to pay his brother the money he was seeking. Although selling the company would have made Dan, as majority shareholder, a millionaire, he knew it would also lead to many of his employees losing their jobs and/or his $70,000 minimum wage policy being overturned and deemed a failure.
Acknowledge Their Emotions: Litigation is always stressful, but when it’s between two parties who were once close--like two brothers turned business partners--emotions can make it even more stressful. As an attorney, it’s your job to help your client make the smartest decisions, which might require you to help them keep their emotions in check. But removing emotion entirely might backfire if it leads to a breakdown of trust. Take the time to acknowledge what your client is feeling and reassure them that those feelings are normal while trying to keep them focused on the goal.
Explain Everything. “Lawyers often suffer from the curse of knowledge,” Dan says. In other words, they take for granted what they know. If you’ve been litigating for a long time, it’s easy to assume that everyone can grasp the process as easily as you do. But unless your client has been through it before, they’re probably completely in the dark. “As soon as you start working with a client, walk through the basics with them about what to expect,” Dan says. Slow it down. Explain it as simply as possible and in the most basic terms you can. If necessary, ask them to repeat things back to you to make sure they understand.
Explain It Again. Even if you explain everything perfectly from the outset, explain it again. Repeat yourself. Dan suggests beginning every meeting with a reminder about what you’re doing and why and what comes next. You might feel like a broken record, but your client will appreciate you taking the time to make sure they understand.